The places that claim us
Kith and Kin

Falling in love with a place

Sheep 1

Sheep 2

In yesterday's post, Sharon Blackie suggests that one way to feel at home wherever it is you find yourself planted is to "learn the ecology, history, language, culture, mythology of your place." Philip Marsden did exactly than when he moved into a tumbledown farmhouse in Cornwall. In his beautiful book Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place, he recounts the experience of renovating the house, puzzles out the history of the land that it sits on, then widens his scope to the mythic and social history of Cornwall , tramping the land to better understand the rugged, wild county he loves.

"We weren't looking to move house," he writes. "We were perfectly happy living in a Cornish seaside village. Our children had just started at the primary school. We had a little boat, and I thought that after the chaotic years of early parenthood, a degree of control was once again settling over our lives. But that May, Charlotte spotted in the local newspaper an old farmhouse for sale. We arranged to view it -- curiosity, nothing more. Yet as we drove down the grass-centered track, and saw the arena of rounded hills and the network of oak-fringed creeks and the first glimpse of the house, its chimneys and slate roof rising from beyond a field of barley, I had the sense that our cozy domestic world was about to be shattered....

Shaun the Sheep

"Built at a time before railways made their full impact on Cornwall, the farmhouse was designed for work. The garden was a narrow strip of grass before the proper business of pasture. Mains power only reached the house in the 1980s; its water was still pumped up from a hand-dug well. A field was attached, and it rose slightly -- sheltering the house from the worst of the wind -- before dropping on three sides to the creek. Standing in the field on our first visit, seeing the house with only the roof and top-floor windows visible, I convinced myself that it represented an ageless integrity with the land around it, and felt sure it would pour beneficence over anyone lucky enough to live there. Such delusions are only possible for the besotted. In the days and weeks that followed, I learned that 'falling in love with a place' meant exactly that -- with all its downsides, its yearnings and mood swings."

Sheep 4

But the progress of love was not smooth. Marsden and his wife put their seaside house on the market, but could find no buyer. A year passed, and the farmouse was withdrawn from sale. Then, just as suddenly, it was back on the market again.

"Now like a stalker, I began to take real walks down through the woods towards it," he relates. "I learnt to anticipate the exact point, just under a mile away, where the roof would appear through the trees (beside the pheasant pens, on the edge of the maize field). The path led down toward a side creek and the house was then lost from view -- but I could see the field across the corridor of mud flats and the sessile oaks that bordered it. Every tree and shrub I scrutinized. I knew it was unwise to dwell on something that might never happen -- but, well, I couldn't help myself.

Sheep 5

"Another year passed. Our house did not sell. Viewers came and went. Buyers turned out not to be buyers. The banks froze up. And then, suddenly, it was all resolved. A date was fixed. I scrambled to finish the manuscript of a book and sent it off to my publisher just days before the removal lorries arrived. Clearing out years of accumulated junk, burning papers, scooping up yards and yards of books, watching the dismantling of rooms I had known all my life, the stripping of a house I had once yearned for in the same way, I felt only reckless excitment about what was ahead. I kept expecting the leg-buckling coup of nostalgia, even the tiniest stab of sadness or regret -- but it never came."

Sheep 6

They move into the farmhouse at last, and begin the long, slow work of reclaiming a place neglected for many years -- recovering the farm's original features, its kitchen garden, its history. Marsden writes:

"Long before the farmhouse was built in the mid-nineteenth century, a substantial manor had stood on the site -- not exactly here, but eighty meters or so towards the creek. In the diocesan records, there remain a few scant references to the house, to its lands stretching many miles to the south, and to a Norman family, the Petits, who owned it all. A strategic position on the river -- as well as the ancient Cornish name [Ardevora] -- suggests long use of the site, and I imagined it as one of those hubs in the nation-of-sorts that once connected estuaries in Wales and Ireland and Brittany, Iberia and Scotland.

Sheep 7

"In 1420, an application was made by the Petits to build a chapel. But within a century, the estate was breaking up. A generation of daughters married away -- the eldest into the Killigrew family, whose lands at the mouth of the Fal were better suited to the new age. The upper reaches of the river, a conduit for Cornish tin since antiquity, were suffering a slow paralysis. Silt was clogging the riverbed, pushing the navigatable waters far back to the open sea.

Sheep 8

"One evening, working on a length of overgrown wall, I sliced through the stem of a cotoneaster, yanked it out and exposed what looked like part of a large stone basin. I cleared the roots and found it was a piece of black granite, dry-laid on the slate wall. I heaved it free. Upended on the grass, it was clear what it was: a piece of medieval tracery, the top half of a cinquefoil window. The chapel! I ran my fingers along the crescent edges of the rebate. I thought of sunlight falling through the glass, patterning the wood benches below and morning prayers, and the yards around the building busy with animals and work, and ships at anchor in the deep-water creek, and the mingle of Breton and Cornish, Welsh and Irish.

Sheep 9

"Knowing a little of the past brought with it the first sense of belonging. In 1954, Martin Heidegger wrote in an influential essay called 'Building Dwelling Thinking,' in which he explores the close connection of the three '-ings' of his title -- a connection emphasized by his mannered omission of commas. He takes as his example a two-hundred-year-old farmhouse in the Black Forest. Such a place -- with echoes of Ardevora -- combined religious belief, domestic life and local topography: 'Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals, enter in simple oneness into things, ordered the house. It placed the farm on the wind-sheltered mountain slope looking south, among the meadows close to the spring.'

Sheep 10

Sheep 11

" 'Dwelling' for Heidegger meant much more than just living in a house. It described a way of being in the world. In Old English and High German, he shows how the word buan -- meaning both 'building' and 'to dwell' -- is linked to the verb 'to be.' (The same is true of Cornish and Brittonic languages: bos in Cornish is a verbal noun meaning both 'to be' and a 'building' or 'dwelling.') So to be is 'to be in a place.' Only by knowing our surroundings, being aware of topography and the past, can we live what Heidegger deems an 'authentic' existence. Heidegger is pretty severe about what constitutes authenticity, but his 'dwelling' does highlight something we've lost in our hyper-connected world, something I found myself rediscovering that spring down the end of a long track: the ability to immerse ourselves in one place. Heidegger also wrote: 'Only if we are capable of dwelling, only then can we build' (his italics). I felt he was pointing his magisterial finger directly at me."

Sheep 12

Sheep 13

Sheep 14

If you'd like to know more about Marsden's Rising Ground, I wrote about it here, in 2015, after my first read of it. (I'm half-way through my second read now, and finding it even more interesting this time around.) You'll also find a good interview with the author on the Granta website.

The photographs today were taken on a sheep farm here in Devon. I'm afraid they don't relate to the text very well, but these sweet and gentle creatures are simply too lovely not to share. Perhaps the connection is that my love for the sheep-dotted hills of Devon is every bit as strong as Marsden's for coastal Cornwall.

Rising Ground by Philip Marsden

Words: The passage quoted above is from Rising Ground by Philip Marsden (Granta, 2014). The poem in the picture captions is about abstract painter Bryan Wynter (1915-1975), who lived in Zennor on the Cornish coast. It's from Selected Poems by W.S. Graham (Ecco Press, 1980). All rights reserved by the authors.


This looks like another book I'm going to have to read. (Furiously scribbling notes.) Thank you.

Adorable sheep. The lack of connection to "Rising Ground" didn't bother me, I assumed the connection was to the sheep in yesterday's post. Never apologize for sheep!

I love the essay, Terri, but the poem even more so have patterned this after it. Thank you for both.'

A Note To David

I am sorry I have not joined you yet.
But the children and grands
still need a joke at the right time,
though I have never mastered
your silly walks, snark
being my major contribution.
And poetry.

There are moments when I stroll
along the dike, light slanting,
through oak and birch,
perching on the trees
wind and beavers have felled.
Then I can see you ahead,
field glasses focused
on a passager, before you turn
to name it to me, both common, Latin.
I was never so quick
to know the names, your passion,
just noted the cant of wings,
the glint of sun on trees,
those cantos of nature.

I want to remember all of you,
especially here, where the wind
often sighs your name.
But it is in the house,
where half our time together
is heavy with memory.
Not just the photographic lines,
that diary of events,
or the paintings of you
from books. All the illustrators
used your strong face,
from prince to king
to Don Quixote, with his sad eyes
looking toward a bleak future,
the windmill battling on
behind him.

If you are truly where
some of our friends believe,
you are well pissed,
arguing with God,
because you always hated being wrong.
But I believe you are in the air,
that shaft of sunlight,
the sky as blue as your enviable eyes.
I have recorded you
as you did the ouzlers in the Scottish glens,
in every cell of my body.

And soon, but perhaps
not that soon,
I will return them to you
in bone, in ash, in dust,
and we will walk the dike
once more together,
the Connecticut River rushing
along beside.

©2019 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I love this...from another position of having never been rooted to a particular piece of land, but enjoying walking or driving upon many miles. The sheep are well photographed and I enjoyed the poem linked with them. And of course the book sounds very intriguing.

I love the idea of falling in love with the place you are, but I wish there was more written by those who manage this without the luxury of restoring an ancient farmhouse - or in fact, building or living in a house of their own at all. There are so many of us that due to finances or other circumstances will never own a home or land and must forge our relationships with our surroundings while at the mercy of landlords and living on top of our neighbors (who may never treat the buildings or land with the care that we would if we were in control). It produces a different kind of feeling and interaction - but one that we should be promoting in a time where the more ecological move overall is toward urbanization (as much as I personally would love to live in a farmhouse in Cornwall!).

You are one with many, Kate, and my good man and I are They. Yes, the economy of real estate and property has created a world that rules Us into their margins. But, the thing about Travelers, Voyagers and Nomads is our strong yet airy bonds to Earth and Sky as good Home Places. And, 'No, we will not stay-out-of-the-way.'

Beautiful, Jane.

Hi Terri

I love the essay, those gorgeous pictures and , of course, the poem. One place that I fell in love with along with my husband was the city of San Franscisco. I discovered much of its spirit and essence wandering the back streets, dining at the small cafes and taking in the quaintness and literary magic of one of its old book shops. This place claimed me and each time I went back, the spell only intensified. Beyond the Tourist centers and attractions, my partner and I found the city's intimate heart, her pulse and the beauty that bound us together. Here's the poem that rather captures that mood and event.

In The Bookshop
(For James)

Bookshelves divide the floor
like oak hedges flowering with poets
I have known and yet to meet. A table and two chairs
catching the window’s fill of light -- host our presence upstairs.
The sun cool for September.

You sit reading a thinner book than mine.
Intent, Your hand turns the pages, pressing on words
that match the tone of my personal verse. You sway
in a boat of quiet hours -- knowing I love water
and a heron bending his head toward the reeds
watching stillness ripple into threads of sudden
movement. A waver of pewter fish, bluing sky. Meanwhile

I am lost in the middle of hayfields and church bells,
Slovakia’s bread and song. My fingertips wind
through sentences that whisper or wail , feel rough or refined.
Outside, the city chooses its own poetic sounds,
partitions the scenery with brick and marble, the alley ways
of memory and last year's visit.

Unpublished as writers, we were showcased there
among the buildings, bookshelves titled with ivy
and shadows of people who walked by, hands clasping
the air, the peal of trolley cars, the shriek of sea gulls.

San Francisco gave us her pulse;
we counted many ways to love her and each other.
Our sum stretched toward the bay, water rinsing off time
and smudging words into the dusklit tide. Lights flickered
and votive fire blessed our throats.

We kissed, a tall volume placed
between Angel Island and a harp-strung gate.

Again, many thanks for today's post and all the others from this week. What a joy to read about such places, feelings and sense of belonging.

Take care,

Hi Jane

I loved the poem in the pictures by W. S. Graham but I love yours even more. This is poetry that haunts in the most beautiful and intense way. I can picture these scenes vividly and feel the pulse of emotion and reflection running through each section. And it's very hard to pick a favorite, they all resonate so strongly with me but this one touched me deeply --

There are moments when I stroll
along the dike, light slanting,
through oak and birch,
perching on the trees
wind and beavers have felled.
Then I can see you ahead,
field glasses focused
on a passager, before you turn
to name it to me, both common, Latin.
I was never so quick
to know the names, your passion,
just noted the cant of wings,
the glint of sun on trees,
those cantos of nature.

There is such a spiritual sense in those lines underscored by the love a deep and infinite partnership. And yes nature creates her own cantos with light and birds, the overall feeling they convey and the presence, the memory they invoke. Thank you for sharing this, I journeyed through the journey of your poem with awe and sense of something familiar, beautiful and endearing.

Thank you for sharing
Love this a lot!

I agree that more needs to be written about how to root oneself in a place despite transient lives and rental insecurity, and about the ways we can care for the earth and each other in urban and suburban environments. My urban days (in New York and Boston) are many years behind me, so my own writing, including this blog, is naturally focused on life here in the countryside -- but there are an increasing number of other writers out there looking at the intersection of nature and urban space. Rob Cowen's Common Ground comes to mind, and Gavin van Horn's The Way of Coyote. I also highly recommend Lauren Elkin's Flâneuse as a gorgeous celebration of city life.

There is definitely magic in cities, as explored in this post:

Oh Jane. This is stunning.

Thank you for bringing a love of cities into this space with your beautiful, evocative poem, dear.

Thank you, Barb. Though I've been focusing this week on the words of writers who have felt an inner pull to one particular place (as I have felt pulled to Devon), there are definitely many who love the land in a less, shall we say, "monogamous" fashion. All the ways we have for appreciating our beautiful, mysterious earth are welcome here.

For anyone who might be interested, a recent interview with Gavin Van Horn, on exploring urban wildlife:

Hugs for the note, Stuart.

Oh Wendy, I was crying while writing the poem, and sort of cursing while rewriting it, though with tears. And now you have made me cry again.

There opening lines:

"Bookshelves divide the floor
like oak hedges flowering with poets"

caught me.

This image: "A waver of pewter fish"
will stay with me."

This closure:

"We kissed, a tall volume placed
between Angel Island and a harp-strung gate."

with it strong-stress syllable ending is perfect.

Please get ths poem published, perhaps in a San Francisco publication.

As someone who knew David well, Terri, that means so much to me.


Thank you so much for all those book suggestions, I am immediately adding them all to my to-read list! I myself only began to truly appreciate urban magic after moving to a city in the Pacific Northwest, where verdant life explodes in every small corner. It is here I found a home, even though I am still at the whim of rentals. I am learning how to be rooted in the landscape without needing to own or control any of it (though it can be challenging at times, especially when special places are destroyed by developers).

I have contributed my own small piece to this genre - a pocket-sized book about walking the urban environment with an animist perspective:

Ooh, that looks interesting!

Thank you Terri
so much for reading and commenting on this poem! I so deeply appreciate it!

Please take care,
my best always

Dear Jane

Your kind words, encouragement and advocacy for this poem touch me deeply. Thank you many times over for that. And yes, you have a great idea about sending to and look for a SF publication. I know there are several out there

Please take care
my best always!

Dear Jane

I hope the tears are more of comfort and memory in its beautiful form, but yes, with the process of remembering a deeply loved person, someone extraordinary with whom we have shared a deep and meaningful life, there is the bitter and the sweet in writing and reflecting upon it.

My mom shared a wonderful and deeply loving relationship with my dad, much like you have with yours. When he died, she was (as we all were) devastated; but being the wife, was devastated in a different way. Her emotions about faith and fate were mixed, and she went through bouts of perpetual grief but also joy in remembering what they shared and created together regarding a life, home and family.

Out of dark times, we find light and bring that light with all its facets to others when there is a voice as beautiful, perceptive and strong as yours.

Please take care,

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